The dishes you will always have with you

and the laundry, piled up
in crevices and corridors as though to say,
“You can hide me, but you cannot do without me.”
Toys underfoot and books scattered wide
amongst other toddler treasures:
a measuring cup, a rooster,
a brochure considered la mode before
some other fancy flitted through the growing mind.
Some things are permanent, like
dishes, some new –
an Amen! after grace.
Unsettled nights and
teary mornings only serve to say
that all this may pass, but God
it is good that it finds me at all.

Poema

You create and give; I take and arrange
words like atoms, rhythms like pulses
and the matter of your cosmos like
the setting of a table:
an act of grace here, a wilderness feast.

You create and I, created, imitate.
More, I steward
the tones you have embedded in our movements, our speech.
I listen and echo
the hidden poundings of the muted heart,
to say
as a host at table might –
Here, a space is left for you.
And then I point,
first to you who, poised at the vast edge of nothing,
said, Let there be.
And then, second, to the open arms,
the nails, the wood,
the carpenter carved up to make
a home for us.

My Examen

Give me only your love and grace. That is enough for me.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Suscipe

Resolution is void.
The more I look inward,
the more each motive,
each spirit I discern
becomes a snarl, a defiant reminder
that my best attempts are, at best, no good.

Though I ask my conscience to justify
each act from rising to setting of sun,
only the man on the tree has answers for me.
My questions, at best, hammer nails.

What am I doing, have done for Christ?
The soldier sounds the Spirit’s reveille;
Morning exercise leaves me faint;
only Your love, Your grace animate me.

Lying upon my desultory stone,
this alone can console: the sight
of heaven descending to where I lie,
and God in this place, though I did not know.

The moment

when I realise
not that I must always be Somewhere –
fording some Jordan, scaling some Hebron,
engaged in daily grandiose deeds –
but that here, now,
at the interstice of wilful self
and the ever-grinding call
to nothing grand but

a pile of dishes,
a child needing a hug,
a moment of playing at eye-level on the floor,
a gracious word to turn away my own vigilant wrath,

is precisely where
the fear, the trembling, the working-out
of Grace’s grindstone begins.

Nourish the Soil

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none…(Luke 13:6)

If year after year I too am fruitless,
it is not for want of grace, for want
of a vine dresser to plead my plaintive case.
No, fruitlessness stems from only this:
that, granted all the soil in the world,
I prefer to go it alone,
feeding from my own proud stalk,
refusing sun, abusing breath.
What I reject as manure is
the food that I should humbly eat.
Another year; another day;
a thousand years in your gracious sight:
grant me the drooping roots to take
the life rising from Your soil.

Easter Sunday

Unintentionally, I keep vigil the night before
while my son, restless for the dawn,
unsettled by the changing of the clocks,
bids me stay awake and pray.
Some sleep gained before sunrise, yet when the lights comes
it feels somehow the natural outworking of the night,
for I’ve walked through all its stations,
met its passing watches.
And when it’s time
to take off the rags of sleep and roll back the stone for the sun,
day seems natural, an arrival at home.
Yet when it comes I am weary,
ready to return to night,
and when night comes the routine
of dishes and rubbish bins consumes
the wonders of the vigil past.
Sun and moon and clocks distract:
in spite of us, eternity wins each linear day
and Grace keeps vigil over tapering hearts.

Christmas 2: Never Faint Nor Fear

Today, as well as the day for the year’s biggest sales, is also Boxing Day and, as the mysterious carol “Good King Wenceslas” should remind us, St Stephen’s Day. Most likely the Stephen commemorated today was the one martyred in the Acts of the Apostles, so one tradition of today is to sing carols that remind us of his faith. It’s also a day traditionally not about spending but of giving: boxing up gifts to give to the poor, hence the name “Boxing Day”. Today’s poem, for the second day of Christmas, draws together these themes, via an old St Stephen’s Day carol of indeterminate age, played beautifully in this version.

Never Faint Nor Fear

The tree still stands, the presents gone;
They’re boxed and put away.
We rest our feet and pick at food
Left over from yesterday.

Saint Václav and his squire walk
Through snow and in Christ’s footsteps;
We follow signs instead that tell
Of bargains and tax offsets.

If Stephen sat amongst us here,
He’d wonder at our tinsel.
The red, perhaps, foreshadows blood?
So sing the old-time minstrels.

O never faint, and never fear,
Unless your debt be looming.
Pay back your credit card and watch
The lowly rose e’er blooming.

The child soon will mount the cross;
How well St Stephen knew this.
Yet do not dwell so long on that,
Lest it should ruin Christmas.

Instead, you might behold the sight:
The Son of Man is shining.
He climbed the tree, for you, for me,
In sin and error pining.

It is not yours to climb, and yet
The grace may prove contagious.
Let Christmas drive you out in storms
With love and gifts outrageous.